Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 2, January 8, 2001
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American Railroad update

Train 2175

NCI: Leo King

Acela Express train 2175 begins its journey to Washington on New Year's Day as it slowly exits the High-Speed Rail service and inspection building in Boston's Southampton Street Yard on track 7. The next stop will be Boston's South Station, then the train will leave on time for our national capital.
Mineta to be USDOT chief

Republican President-elect Bush selects
outgoing Democratic Commerce Secretary

President-elect George W. Bush has nominated Norman Y. Mineta to be Secretary of Transportation. Mineta is currently Secretary of Commerce, and a former chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee.

Bush said that Mineta's experience will be valuable in addressing issues of air travel and safety, and in helping communities sustain their highway and bridge infrastructures.

Mineta, a Democrat, said that he would work for bipartisan consensus in transportation policy.

"There are no Democratic or Republican highways. There is no such thing as Democratic or Republican railroads, ships, barges or pipelines," Mineta said. He said that a sound infrastructure was part of sustaining growth and prosperity.

The man Mineta will replace, Rodney Slater, applauded Bush's choice.

"I am pleased that President-elect Bush has nominated my friend and colleague Norman Y. Mineta to serve as the next U.S. Transportation Secretary. Mr. Mineta is a distinguished leader with a long history of contribution to America and to the transportation industry, and most recently, as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. I have enjoyed working with him through the years on many issues critical to the American people, and I am confident that the 100,000 visionary and vigilant men and women of this department will work with Mr. Mineta to continue to address the transportation needs of the American people.

Mineta was the thirty-third Commerce secretary, and took over that job on July 21, 2000, where he oversaw a $5 billion budget and 40,000 people worldwide.

Mineta was the first Asian Pacific American to serve in a Presidential cabinet. He and his parents were interned during Word War II because of their Japanese ancestry.

In 1967, he became the first Japanese-American city council member of his hometown of San Jose, California. Just four years later, in 1971, he was elected that city's mayor, and later was elected to the House of Representatives.

Mineta is married to Danealia Mineta. He has two sons, David and Stuart Mineta, and two stepsons, Robert and Mark Brantner.

Mineta received strong support for his new job from AAR president and CEO Edward Hamberger, who said, "President-elect Bush has made a superb choice in selecting Norm Mineta for Transportation Secretary. Having served both as chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee and as Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Mineta will bring to the job a unique understanding of the importance of transportation to the U.S. economy. His in-depth expertise in transportation guarantees that he will hit the ground running and require no long 'training' period. The railroad industry looks forward to working with Secretary Mineta to ensure that the nation's transportation system remains on track."

Mineta's appointment draws praise

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

President-Elect George W. Bush's nomination of outgoing Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta was unusual in a number of ways.

First, of course, not only is he a Democrat ready to serve in a Republican regime, but he is a member of the cabinet of the outgoing Democrat administration. Usually, when a president picks someone of the opposite party to serve in his cabinet, there's some space between his appointee's activist partisan days and his agreement to serve a president he did not support in the election. But it is not unprecedented. Outgoing Defense Secretary William Cohen went straight into the Clinton cabinet from his service as a Republican U.S. Senator.

Second, there were unfounded fears in rail-oriented quarters that any Republican president could only think in terms of someone with a "fly-drive" mentality as his Transportation Secretary. This stereotype ignores John Volpe, the "father of Amtrak" who was Richard Nixon's first Transportation Secretary, as well as Elizabeth Dole who was Transportation Secretary for Ronald Reagan where she fought the Amtrak battle against OMB Director David Stockman. It also ignores John Riley and Gil Carmichael who served as FRA administrators in the Reagan and (senior) Bush administrations, respectively. Nor does it recognize the efforts of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the cheerleading "can do" chairman of Amtrak who is taking the initiative to create a Midwest Regional High Speed Rail Initiative. But old "pigeon hole" images die hard.

Third, in announcing his nominee, President-Elect Bush used the word "infrastructure" in spelling out the challenges that Mineta would be prepared to confront.

I don't know whether any of D:F.'s "hits" has originated in Austin, Texas, but that is right out of our playbook. We have used much of our space in these columns over the past few months to pinpoint the role that infrastructure-building will play if we are to forge a truly balanced transportation system. We have not let our readers forget that while highways and airways have their own little "trust funds" to underwrite their infrastructures, rail has no such publicly backed support.

He has also picked a man who is well-suited to the job. After months in the important but relatively sedentary position of Commerce Secretary, a go-getter like Mineta would naturally salivate at the chance to do something where he could truly "make a difference" that people can see and recognize.

Support for the former California congressman is coming from rail-related quarters far and wide.

In Salt lake City, Utah Transit Authority General Manager John Inglish recalls that Mineta "was mayor of San Jose (before going to Congress), where he was a supporter of their light rail system... He'll be a good supporter for both public transit and highways in Utah."

Inglish makes another point observed by this writer who covered Capitol Hill all during Mineta's 20 years there. "He's very knowledgeable, even-handed and fair."

The man was born with a talent for taking a bold stand for principle while at the same time building a consensus. He's very likable and knows how to deal with people. He is bright and straightforward in his dealings. He is an extremely hard person to dislike.

From rail management: "A superb choice," says Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, primarily the voice of America's Class I carriers. "His in-depth expertise in transportation guarantees that he will hit the ground running and require no long 'training' period."

From rail labor: "We are extremely pleased that someone of the stature and caliber of Norman Mineta has been nominated to serve as Secretary of Transportation in the Bush administration," says Sonny Hall, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, "Secretary Mineta is a tremendous leader who understands the freight and passenger transportation needs of our nation."

From Paul M. Weyrich, conservative icon who heads the Free Congress Foundation, currently vice chairman of the Amtrak Reform Council, former member of the Amtrak board: Mineta "is an inspired choice. Perhaps we will at last have a Republican Administration which understands urban transit problems. That would be a pleasant surprise. This was the right Democrat at the right place at the right time."

From Jim RePass, President and CEO of our own National Corridors Initiative, and tireless supporter of passenger trains: "I think Mineta is a potentially good thing for rail. I knew him when he was on the Public Works Committee (which Mineta chaired during his last congressional term), and spent time with him in New York City at a meeting promoting the (Swedish-built high-speed train) X2000 and ended up riding back with his wife to DC from NYC."

From the trucking industry: "Norm Mineta is a seasoned transportation veteran who understands and appreciates the important role that trucking plays in the economy," according to Walter McCormick, President of the American Trucking Associations. Mineta has an ability to attract allies from different sectors of the transportation industry. Trying to put all modes together to make seamless transportation system that will work for America is no small task. But Mineta is likely to tackle it with zest.

By the way, Mineta and his family were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry forced into internment camps during World War Two. Thus we have a selection that is a "twofer." Qualified for the job and, by the way, "diversity."

A word here about Tommy Thompson, mentioned above. The Wisconsin governor wanted the job of Transportation Secretary. But President-Elect Bush insisted instead on naming him Secretary Health and Human Services. His Wisconsin welfare reform efforts have set the pace for the nation, with more people going off welfare and remaining gainfully employed. Bush would like to replicate that nationwide.

I have a theory about a conversation that might have taken place between the incoming president and the Midwest governor. Let me emphasize I have no inside information or spies in the Bush transition office. This is just my theory, but it would make sense.

Bush: Tommy, I want you to be my Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Thompson: I'm honored that you would consider me for that job. But my first preference was Secretary of Transportation.

Bush: Tommy, I'm aware of your work in transportation. But I need you at HHS. You've taken a lead in that area that is uniquely successful, and I can't find anyone who matches your qualifications there.

Thompson: We do have a success story in Wisconsin. I promised we would get people off welfare and into work, and we did it. But I have a vision for transportation too. We're just getting high-speed rail programs going in this country. We're just now taking baby steps, and I want to see it through.

Bush: Tell you what I can promise you. You get in there at HHS and do for the country what you did in Wisconsin, and I'll pick someone at DOT whose views are very similar to yours. Is that a deal?

Thompson: Deal!

Again, I have no knowledge that this conversation or something similar to it ever occurred. But I wouldn't be surprised if it did. In that context, the nomination of Norman Mineta as DOT Secretary makes sense.

Clyburn becomes STB's vice-chair
Surface Transportation Board Commissioner William Clyburn, Jr. is the body's new vice-chairman, chair Linda J. Morgan said on Friday.

He succeeds Commissioner Wayne Burkes. The vice chairmanship rotates among commissioners annually.

Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, was appointed as the fourth member of the board by President Clinton on December 18, 1998. Clinton subsequently resubmitted Clyburn's nomination in the 106th Congress, and the Senate confirmed his nomination in 1999 for a term to expire on December 31, 2002.

Winter storms foul Northeast;
Midwest rail woes continue
By Leo King

Virtually the entire Northeastern U.S. braced for a heavy winter storm during the last weekend of 2000 and the 20th Century. Only a few locations along the Northeast Corridor, like Boston, escaped unscathed. Philadelphia and New York City got the heaviest snowfall, and more than two feet in some locations. It snowed a little in Boston, but rising temperatures turned snow to rain, and none was sticking to the tracks or ground. Nearby Worcester, on the other hand, got seven inches of the white stuff.

Amtrak stations from Philadelphia and New York Penn Stations, and Boston's South Station were overflowing with travelers trying to get to their destinations for New Year's Eve. All modes of transportation were overwhelmed.

Amtrak canceled Metroliner service between Washington, D.C. and New York, and operated a regular Saturday schedule on the Northeast Corridor, scrapping its holiday schedule. The railroad provided hourly, unreserved service between Washington, D.C. and New York, and service every other hour between New York and Boston. It also deployed people and equipment "to match its expected travel demand, as well as to prepare for Sunday travel, a railroad spokesman said. It established "a 24-hour rapid response operation and making other preparations, including:

  • Deploying snow removal equipment including snowplow trains;

  • Adding extra crews and housing them overnight to ensure adequate staffing;

  • Dispatching personnel to key locations along the railroad for preventive maintenance such as ensuring that track switches remain operable in icy conditions;

  • Establishing a 24-hour rapid response team at the company's National Operations Center (in Delaware) throughout the weekend.

The Boston Globe reported that at the South Station bus terminal, would-be travelers arrived Saturday morning to find Greyhound, Peter Pan, and other bus lines closed for the day, forcing patrons to trundle over to the adjacent rail station.

"It's extremely dangerous out there, so why risk the safety of our passengers for the bottom line?" said Joe Derderian, a Peter Pan representative.

Amtrak, which added 3,000 seats to trains running in the Northeast, experienced a series of snow-related delays, but made it through the day without any weather-related cancellations, said spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings in Philadelphia.

A snow-encrusted Acela Regional train, scheduled to arrive at South Station at 10:52 a.m., arrived at 11:56 a.m., but passengers appeared triumphant just to arrive at all.

"We got into a cab accident in the snow on the way to the station in Manhattan. It was crazy," said Lucette Robinson, while she was searching for a taxi, but she said, "When we got on the train, the snow was pretty."

Meteorologists had forecast the Hub to receive as much as 14 inches of snow, based on computer models. They also relied on a time-honored meteorological mantra: Better safe than sorry.

The near-blizzard hit the Big Apple with blustery winds and whiteout snowfall that reached depths of 9 to 20 inches. The large storm, appearing like a swirling comma on weather radars, was 150 miles wide and 500 miles long. It formed east of Washington, D.C. before dawn and moved up the coast in a daylong assault, reported The New York Times.

The storm bypassed Washington and Baltimore, but hit hardest in New York City and suburbs in Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Amtrak canceled its Metroliner service between Washington and New York. Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines reported scattered delays from five to 15 minutes. Both lines had locomotives fitted with plows to keep the tracks open, and extra crews on duty to keep switches from freezing.

Across the nation, the effects of an ice storm that killed 37 people and devastated much of the Southern Plains all week lingered on, and thousands of homes and businesses in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas were expected to remain without power for 5 to 10 days. President Clinton declared parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma to be disaster areas.

In Florida, freezing temperatures threatened citrus crops, and more snow fell early Saturday (December 30) in snowbound Chicago and Milwaukee. Snowfall for December had been the heaviest on record for any December in the North Central states.

Amtrak cancelled Chicago to Pontiac, Mich., trains.

In a "Midwest Corridor Directive," that was to remain in effect during all of January, trains 350, 352, 353, and 355 were cancelled through January 31, while trains 351 and 354 would operate on their normal schedules. The consists were to include a five-coach Superliner set with a lounge car, and were to be powered by two back-to-back P-42s or F-40PH-2s. There would be no business class or checked baggage for the month.

Trains 370 and 371 would continue to operate on a normal schedule from Chicago to Grand Rapids, Mich., with Superliner equipment, and trains 364 and 365 were to continue operating on a normal schedule from Chicago to Toronto.

In Wisconsin, trains 342 and 343 from Chicago to Janesville, Wis., were cancelled through January; otherwise, normal service would continue from Chicago, with P-32-8s power reassigned from the annulled Michigan Service trains.

Chicago, Missouri, and Kansas City service remained intact.

Amtrak noted, "No alternate transportation will be provided."

The railroad's Lake Shore Limited, eastbound trains 48 and 448, were frequently late - up to 14 hours. No. 48 operates from Chicago to New York, while No. 448 splits off from the train at Albany-Renssaeler, N.Y. and continues on to Boston. Their westbound counterparts were also often delayed leaving their terminals because of late-arriving equipment.

On Christmas Eve, thousands of passengers on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit commuter trains were delayed for hours because a falling tree branch knocked a power line down. Trains spent an average of three to four hours inching along tracks between New Brunswick and Newark, a distance of about 25 miles, on Saturday, said New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Anna Farneski.

The delays, which lasted from about 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Saturday, were caused by a tree branch that hit a high-voltage wire in Metuchen, N.J., knocking the catenary onto signal cables, an NJ Transit spokesman said, according to a report in The New York Times on the Web.

Elsewhere during Christmas week, problems with No. 50, the Cardinal, transformed into problems with No. 51. Two days later, Amtrak ended up with two sets of Cardinal equipment in Chicago, and none in Washington, D.C., so Amtrak's No. 51 operated with buses on the 27th.

One man, who is usually friendly toward Amtrak, observed, "The weather has about done in Amtrak."

Roger Stoel, of Muskegon, Mich., wrote in an on-line report that he rode home from Chicago on December 28 on the Superliner-equipped Pere Marquette.

"I had arrived at Union Station on the Empire Builder and was informed that as of 5:30 p.m. (CST) that Amtrak had no workable engines or equipment available in Chicago. Much of the equipment had not yet arrived or was sitting for repair."

Stoel added, "Amtrak announced later they were trying to put together two trains from available equipment - one for Grand Rapids, and one for Detroit."

He wrote, the Pere Marquette was finally readied "at 7 p.m. with one engine, two Superliners, and one Superliner snack car with tables and concession area on the upper level. The snack car had no running water, so no hot tea, chocolate, etc. was available."

The traveler also noted, "Apparently the coffee urns were filled with water and carried aboard or filled with pails of water. I spent most of my time in the snack car discussing the mess with a couple of friends.

"The train was held nearly ten minutes at the METRA crossing just east of the Dan Ryan and then, after a slow pace through northern Indiana, we were stopped, as well as the Detroit train behind us, on the south track at Burns Harbor for a dead NS freight. We sat for three hours before the train was recrewed. The Amtrak conductor held his cool despite one irate patron who wanted off the train and put in a limo at Burns Harbor at Amtrak's expense."

The conductor "notified someone in Grand Rapids to keep the depot open late and post a note about an arrival of possible 4 or 5 a.m. Holland police were also contacted to keep the depot there open and to notify those waiting for the train of its late arrival."

The rider wrote he arrived in Holland, around 1:45 to 2:00 a.m. and was "home in Muskegon around 3 a.m."

The train did try to make up some time, he wrote, "but I tell all that whatever [track] work was done on the Michigan City to Grand Rapids CSX line was not enough. That train was swaying back and forth terribly, one of the roughest rides I've ever had on the Pere Marquette. As long as the winter continues, Amtrak is going to have major equipment problems and major delays. If you take the train, you can expect delays."

The worst horror story so far this winter came from Chicago. Sun-Times reporters wrote the City of New Orleans got as far as Homewood, Ill., 20 miles down the tracks, but came back to Chicago because the crew's shift was over.

Amtrak passengers stranded in the bitter cold were steamed. Their Thursday night train trip stretched into Friday night, and they were still in Chicago, sleeping on benches with children and Christmas packages.

The Christmas Day run of the City was supposed to leave Union Station at 8 p.m., with 263 passengers headed for small towns from Illinois to Mississippi on its 20-hour trip, but it was delayed by frozen equipment.

At 5 a.m. Friday, the train finally headed south.

But when it got to Homewood, the crew stopped the train, telling passengers that they had 'outlawed," and could not violate hours of service laws.

Amtrak sent the train and its passengers back to Union Station, and stranded passengers complained of being kept in the dark.

"I'm very, very upset. I do not like it at all. They should have told us the truth in the beginning," said Allie Holmes, who was traveling to McComb, Miss., with her husband and 6-year-old granddaughter, Oshai. The three were worn out.

"All they did was to lie and treat us like we were nothing. Why would they make us leave the station if we had to come back?" said Andrew Jasmine, 34, from New Orleans. He was traveling home after working on construction jobs in Chicago for the last four months. He couldn't wait to see his 7-year-old daughter, Tamika.

When the train stopped in Homewood, 10 passengers took refunds and went their own way, hailing cabs, an Amtrak spokesman said. Another 59 passengers, who were going only as far as Carbondale, hopped a METRA train.

The rest waited at Union Station, to take Friday night's City of New Orleans.

Again, it was supposed to leave at 8 p.m., but the departure was pushed back at least until midnight, 28 hours after the passengers were scheduled to leave.

An Amtrak spokesman said he did not know why the train left at all Friday morning if the work rules required the crew to stop, but he said crews are supposed to work until the end of their shifts, which may have been a factor. Conductors and engineers outlaw after 12 hours on the job. Efforts to get a new crew were unsuccessful.

The railroad offered to fly first-class passengers to New Orleans, but later it turned out there were no available flights.

"We feel they lied to us and put us on the train not to have to pay for the hotel," said Ramona Gilbert, 19, who was traveling with her brother Paul, 21, from Minnesota to their hometown of Vicksburg, Miss.

"Had they just been truthful to us, we could have made other arrangements," said Paul Gilbert.

Another nine trains that were supposed to leave Union Station that Friday were canceled because of weather problems, said Amtrak spokesman Kevin Johnson.

Midway Airport reported Arctic temperatures, which reached 9 below zero without the wind chill and 40 below with it, and froze jet fuel. Airlines in and out of Midway and O'Hare were grounded.

Train 2150

NCI: Leo King

Train 2150, the Acela Express, approaches New Haven, Conn., station
The editor takes a ride

It was a very good Acela day

By Leo King

At last!

I got my ride on an Acela Express... and it was worth every penny of the ticket's cost. Train 2150 with the 2031-2031 trainset left Washington on time on December 19, 2000, arrived and left Penn Station in New York City on time, arrived and departed New Haven Conn., from track 2 on time, and arrived in Boston on time. That Tuesday's showing was far better than the first week's.

Most people have read in various publications about the various appointments aboard the train, from the quite useful electrical outlets at each seat for laptop computers and other electronic gadgets, so I will not rehash that.

I was more interested in the crew and how they liked the trains, so far. After Conductor Lesley Lynch collected my ticket (I was in the rear car, the business class car), he had a few minutes to sit with me. I did not have to ask him directly how he liked the train - he responded to my questions enthusiastically.

He has worked for Amtrak for three years. "I was hired in Boston, but New York is my home base," he said.

Acela Express Conductor Lesley Lynch

NCI: Leo King

Acela Express Conductor Lesley Lynch. He was on the train this day from the spare board, the extra list, while its regular conductor, Terry Farrell, was on vacation.
Kevin Flegler was up in the cab running the trains at speeds up to 125, 135 and 150 mph. New England Division road Foreman of Engines Dennis Drumheller was with him, helping as required. Flegler was a New Haven-based trainman.

Lynch said he "started out as an assistant conductor," as most trainmen do, then was promoted to conductor as he qualified various lines. "This is my tenth trip on an Acela Express," he said. He traveled on eight test trains, so this made his second "live run." From what I could see, he had learned his lessons well.

"The tilt system is on and it is working," he said. When we took some of those curves, it was apparent we were going faster than I was used to, and the train was tilting inward. Only the engines do not tilt.

Lynch also noted other reporters had interviewed him, people from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. I gave him NCI's web address so he could check us out after he got home.

He had an office in the middle of the train, in the bistro car, but things were so quiet he was not required to stay there; besides, he had his portable radio with him if he needed to chat with any dispatchers, like Dan Perry on the Shore Line, Ken Vitiello on Main Line desk, Paul Morrissey on the Corridor desk, or any others. His engineer was within easy reach as well as a pair of assistant conductors.

When it came to operations, he said, "We have to do the same things any other crew needs to do when it comes to copying and following written instructions" from a Movement Permit Form D or oral dispatcher instructions.

We took a cab signal "hit" as we passed Nan, a rolling lift bridge over the Niantic River between Old Lyme and Waterford, Conn. The cab signals dropped to "restricting" and stayed there until the train exited the interlocking.

I had deadheaded down to New Haven from Providence a little earlier in the morning on No. 133 with HHP-8 656 leading. Those 8,000 horsepower beasts were as susceptible to cab signal hits as the F-40s or any other engines were, and it became quite aggravating for the crews. The frequent cab signal hits were related to the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System. Those passive transponders were inserted in the gauge in each track, and the on-board equipment searched out the next transponders in advance of the train, to discern whether the block ahead was occupied. I am not a technician, but the readback from the onboard computer was frequently giving false indications that there was something ahead, and the brakes were automatically applied. The engineers frequently could not recover until the train had slowed to "restricting speed," which is 15 mph inside interlocking limits, and 20 mph outside those limits, and until the engineer gets a better indication. For example, as soon as our train 2150 exited Nan interlocking, the signals went back up to clear - nothing ahead of us except clear track.

Acela Regional train 131

NCI: Leo King

Westward Acela Regional train 131's engine makes sparks under the catenary. The carbon pantograph surface atop engine 656 brushes the contact wire, producing frequent sparks as the train gently rocks over the undulating track.
On my westward journey toward New Haven, which left Providence eight minutes late, our engine 656 had gotten frequent cab signal "flips" - when the signals flip back and forth between clear and some other indication - between the Transfer interlocking in Readville, Mass., and Cranston, R.I. The engineer, Bob Struthers, and engine road foreman Drumheller reported their cab signals dropped from ""Clear 150 to Clear 125" to Main Line dispatcher Vitiello, a 23-year veteran with Amtrak. They also reported to Shore Line dispatcher Perry our train had gotten hits at Mystic River interlocking, and again at Groton interlocking while we were passing over the Thames River bridge and, moments later, Shaw's Cove, where the signals dropped to restricting.

Each interlocking still has wayside signals guarding the entrances, but when a cab signal and a wayside differ, the lower indication becomes the ruling speed.

Back on the Acela Express, we crossed over from track 2 to track 1 at Davisville, R.I., the heart of 150 mph territory, and stayed there for the next thirty miles.

A man aboard the business car I was in was addressing "300 or 400" Christmas cards. He said he had boarded in Philadelphia. A young woman a couple of seats behind me was sound asleep, curled up on a seat, and stayed that way until we got to Boston, where she blossomed with a bright, cheery face. I counted four, maybe five people in the car.

A weatherman's perspective

Todd Glickman works full-time for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Corporate Relations office, but he also moonlights as a meteorologist for WCBS NewsRadio 88 in New York City. He lives in Massachusetts, but grew up in Roslyn, New York, on Long Island. He is a regular weekend commuter to the city via one of the two air shuttles, but he rode an Acela Express instead on December 14, a Thursday.

"Just about an hour ago I arrived in New York City on the Acela Express," he wrote on that chilly December day.

"I was on No. 2175, the 5:12 p.m. departure from Boston's South Station. I chose to board the train at the suburban Route 128 station, since it has a large parking garage (and costs $10 per day). The train was due at 5:26, but arrived five minutes late at 5:31. It arrived on Track 2, the northbound track, so that it could pass MBTA locals between Boston and Providence. I rode 'business class,' which was main seating, in two-by-two seating configuration. First class is two-and-one, and about one-third more fare)."

His train attained 150 mph passing through Rhode Island. Glickman observed, "You can feel the tilt kick in for the first few minutes, but then you get used to it. It really helped dampen the lateral forces. At relatively slow speeds, the tilt does not work, and you can notice the curves then."

He pointed out that "In the cafe car, there is a maintenance closet. Since there were a dozen or more technicians and 'suits' lurking on-board, it was open most of the time. There was a small CRT with diagnostic data in the closet, but most interestingly, a speed readout. When I peeked in, it said '130.' 1 ran back to my seat for my camera, but when I returned, we were at 66.

"The train is very, very smooth, and similar to a jet aircraft in flight, with only minor ripples; but that makes you notice the constant acceleration and deceleration a lot more. It is also very, very quiet, but that makes you notice distractions inside the car more, such as the four youngsters making a lot of noise in my car, and running up and down the aisle. This was a lot more annoying than the low din of cell phone users."

He took a stroll through the train, and estimated "that about half of the passengers were using an He pointed out that "In the cafe car, there is a maintenance closet. Since there were a dozen or more technicians and 'suits' lurking on-board, it was open most of the time. There was a small CRT with diagnostic data in the closet, but most interestingly, a speed readout. When I peeked in, it said '130.' 1 ran back to my seat for my camera, but when I returned, we were at 66.

"The train is very, very smooth, and similar to a jet aircraft in flight, with only minor ripples; but that makes you notice the constant acceleration and deceleration a lot more. It is also very, very quiet, but that makes you notice distractions inside the car more, such as the four youngsters making a lot of noise in my car, and running up and down the aisle. This was a lot more annoying than the low din of cell phone users."

He took a stroll through the train, and estimated "that about half of the passengers were using an electronic device of some type, such as a computer, cell phone, PDA, CD or DVD player, etc."

The cafe car had only 12 stools and a narrow counter for eating.

"This encourages people to return to their seats to eat. The food was not too bad - I had a burger, chips, and white wine (couldn't resist) for $9. A bit pricey, but then again, you don't get a high-speed train ride when you eat at a gourmet restaurant, do you?"

Bistro Car...

NCI: Leo King

Part of the express train's bistro car
In the business class seating, "I noted that the seat 'numbers' were (for example, in my row), '11 A' and 'C,' and '11 D' and 'F.' This is similar to first class in airplanes, whereas coaches have 'ABC' and DEF'. I think they were trying to give the illusion of first class. Of course, there is no way three-by-three seating could be installed, I hope."

The electronic destination signs inside Glickman's car "were stuck on Next Stop: Back Bay' for the entire trip."

"We arrived at Penn Station six minutes late," Glickman said, "so we lost one minute enroute. Not bad. All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable trip. I just wish it had been light out so that I could have enjoyed the scenery zip by. However, the approach to New York City was particularly beautiful going over Hell Gate Bridge."

He returned home in New England on the next Saturday aboard "a 'slow' Acela Regional" drawn by an electric engine, "and the expresses don't run on weekends yet."

Like Todd, I took a stroll through the rest of the train as far as the bistro, but it was not crowded - in fact just the opposite, rather sparsely populated. I did not count heads (some were railroad officials of various stripes), but there were few paying guests aboard this day. I expect, and it was only my opinion, of course, that ridership will improve when the word gets out into the business community that the train is fast - really fast.

"How fast," you ask? Well, let's put it this way: The Boston Globe sent a pair of reporters to the Big Apple to find out. They both began their journeys from Midtown. Ralph Lewis rode the Acela Express while Matthew Brelis took a Delta Shuttle from LaGuardia. Both spent more than four hours traveling back to Boston, and the goal was to be the first to arrive at Post Office Square. Less than two minutes separated the pair upon arrival, with Brelis winning the race. Brelis's parking ticket was stamped at 11:45 a.m., and Lewis's at 11:47 a.m.

Two minutes difference... and the Acela was running about ten minutes late.

That is not bad at all, and when the ACSES cab signaling is completely in place, and Metro North upgrades its tracks and catenary so they can move trains up to 110 mph, that will be a vast improvement as well. An engineer friend of ours also advised us that speeds over every bridge on MN's New Haven Line is 40 to 45 mph because of the age of the spans, or wire restrictions. Cos Cob, however, is limited to 50 mph because there is no wire over the swing span.

Right now, all trains, no matter who's it is, are limited to 90 mph or less, and even then, they can only make 90 in a couple of places. That's it - no faster, until those upgrades are done.

Amtrak has some vast improvements to make between Washington and New York. The antiquated catenary, although upgraded over the years, will not permit 150 travel until it is replaced with the type built between New Haven and Boston.

"We are now attaining our highest speed, 150," Lynch said over the express train's intercom. "Thank you for riding Acela Express." We were approaching Davisville, R.I.

We got a few more cab signal hits. We passed Davisville, and then passed Train 93, which was on track 2. We made a two-minute stop in Providence, then continued on to Holden interlocking, a tad more than one mile east of Attleborough station. Those signs worked fine for my trip, lighting up with the proper names as we approached each station stop. That, by the way, is a European idea. When I rode trains in England last summer, virtually all the trains I rode on had that feature. We crossed back over to track 2 at Holden, but went back over to track 1 again at The Transfer (MP 218.5) because Corridor dispatcher Paul Morrisey had a track occupancy light (a track circuit) pop up on track 2. All our crossovers were made on those 80 mph, 20-switch motor, high-speed crossovers.

Acela Passes Readville Shuttle

NCI: Leo King

The Acela Express passes the Readville Shuttle at South Station.
When we passed CSX's Readville yard, the freight guys were looking over our train. They were not just looking for anything wrong, but also simply gawking at this strange critter. An engineer sitting at the throttle of a stopped GP-40-2 had a look on his face as if he was a kid who just got his first Lionel electric train set... or maybe that Bachmann HO Acela set... Gee, there are some similarities....

We continued our journey eastward on track 2 until we arrived at South Station and landed in the middle of the plant.

One other note - Amtrak's eastbound 84 and MBTA's No. 880 now make a right turn at The Transfer interlocking to run the last ten miles into Boston via the Dorchester Branch. The changes are in the timetables, so it is a permanent change. The reason is to give westward Acela Express 2175 a clear shot in the late afternoon to Route 128, University Park Station. The fast train leaves South Station at 5:12 p.m. I deadheaded home to Providence on No. 175, drawn by F-40PH No. 411. Now off-duty 2150's conductor Lynch was deadheading home to New York. For me, that was enough train riding for one day.

Tunnel problems continue in Gotham;
IG sees no quick solution
USDOT's inspector general says at the rate the railroads are investing in urgently needed safety improvements, the six tunnels operating in and out of New York City's Penn Station will not be safe until 2030.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) who had ordered the study said, "We cannot wait 30 years for the tunnels below Penn Station to be addressed." He added that it was "unacceptable, particularly when lives are at stake."

Last March, Inspector General Kenneth Mead issued a report citing narrow, winding spiral staircases, and crumbling benchwalls, which would be inadequate to support successful evacuation of "potentially... thousands of passengers in the event of a serious tunnel fire. Ventilation systems that cannot remove sufficient amounts of smoke or heat could further jeopardize the success of such an operation."

In his latest report to Wolf, Mead said the three railroads that use Penn Station - Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and New Jersey Transit (NJT) - had identified $654 million in needs with an anticipated completion date by 2014.

Wolf, who heads the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, has already said that is too long. Now this new study, indicating it may take twice as long, until 2030, is simply beyond the pale, as far as the Virginia lawmaker is concerned. He warned, "Safety must always come first."

The three railroads have updated those 1997 dollars to "current year expenditures" and find that the current cost for completing the work by 2010" would come to $898 million. If not completed until 2030, the project "may carry a much higher price."

The IG report stated the money to speed up the safety improvements could come from a supplemental appropriation for 2001. Or perhaps the funding could come from a $10 billion high-speed rail bill granting Amtrak additional bonding authority for high-speed rail projects around the country. That legislation died in the 106th Congress, but the Senate leadership has promised to give it priority in 2001.

The new IG report disclosed that a separate project to modernize and rebuild Penn Station by moving it across the street to the old Farley Post Office Building, slated for completion in 2005, is now in a cost overrun. It is now estimated to have grown from $768 million to $817.5 million.

Wolf has blasted the planners for pinching pennies on the safety project while putting the Farley modernization project above the tunnels on a faster track.

Amtrak has cited a tight budget as the problem, and consumer advocates at the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) have noted the modernization of the station is not funded entirely from the same sources as the tunnel safety upgrade.

"When they sent that money down from Albany, they didn't say 'tunnels,' they said 'Farley Building,'" NARP Assistant Director Scott Leonard told D:F.

Wolf is demanding that the safety project be completed either before or concurrent with the station upgrade.

The new study says that New York and New Jersey have worked for the railroads to develop "an emergency response protocol" to deal with tunnel fires. However, Mead adds, the New York City Fire Commissioner believes the extraordinary planning and training "may not be enough to prevent a catastrophic outcome."

Hall leaving safety board
Acting Chairman Jim Hall said just before Christmas that he would resign his position as member of the National Transportation Safety Board on January 18. He joined the Board in October 1993 and had been chairman since June 1994. In his letter of resignation to President Clinton, Hall said, "It has been my honor and privilege to serve the United States and its citizens... for the past seven years." Hall, of Chattanooga, Tenn. has not announced his future plans. An interim director has not yet been named.

Shore Line East gets a station
Shore Line East commuter railroad, which operates between New Haven and New London, Conn., broke ground for a new station on December 19, according to reports. It is being built at State and Chapel Streets in downtown New Haven. The $5 million project is part of a plan to mitigate traffic congestion on Interstate Highway 95 during the 12 years that 1-95 will be widened between New Haven and Branford. The interchange with I-91 will also be rebuilt, and a new bridge over the Quinnipiac River is to be built.

At the ceremony, Gov. John G. Rowland said that the new station, on the edge of downtown and within five blocks of 35 percent of jobs in New Haven's central business district, is expected to double or triple Shore Line East ridership.

Rowland had proposed to eliminate Shore Line East in his 1995 and 1997 state budget proposals.

Actual construction work began about two weeks earlier. Tracks 1 and 2 are the high-speed (50 mph to the Union Station platforms) tracks. Tracks 4 and 6 are slower, at least until all the trackwork is completed.

The new station platform will be between tracks 4 and 6, serving Shore Line East trains only, but the SLE Riders Association is urging the state DOT to have the Metro North morning trains to New Haven and the late afternoon trains stop there, too.

Door-to-door commutes for some riders will be reduced by 15 minutes in each direction. Also, when (and if) New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter service starts, those trains are also expected to stop at State Street.

Thanks to Lee Carlson

NS offers a route to SEPTA
Here's a switch - a freight railroad would give up a busy line in exchange for a new route.

Norfolk Southern (NS) has offered the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) a new way to build its proposed MetroRail transit line from Philadelphia to Reading.

It's simple but expensive, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

NS proposed during Christmas week giving SEPTA its railroad from Norristown to Reading, if SEPTA will build a new freight line in the region. The proposal would increase the estimated cost of MetroRail to $2.2 billion from last summer's $1.44 billion estimate, but SEPTA officials said they were pleased and undaunted.

Both parties framed the offer as the beginning of what is expected to be long negotiations between the transit agency and the railroad for a project intended to help unclog the Schuylkill Expressway, offer a rail link to King of Prussia, Pa., and spur billions in transit-friendly commercial and residential development in the booming western suburbs.

For four years, SEPTA has sought permission, first from Conrail and then from NS, to run rail transit on new tracks in the freight corridor from Norristown to Reading.

NS did not like that idea.

"We are tired of being the bad guy, but there will always be conflict if you try to move freight and passengers in the same corridor," said H. Craig Lewis, NS's vice president of corporate affairs.

In his offer, Lewis proposed that SEPTA instead build NS a railroad on the abandoned 32-mile Enola line through Chester and Lancaster Counties to Creswell, where it connects to a freight line to Harrisburg.

Built in 1905 to relieve congestion on the Pennsylvania Railroad's main Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg line, the Enola branch, named after a town outside Harrisburg, was abandoned by Conrail in 1990. Rail, ties, and signals were removed, leaving only a leafy rail bed running from Parkesburg, Chester County, westward through Lancaster County to Harrisburg.

The Norristown-to-Reading link "is our main line out of Philadelphia," Lewis said. "If you want to push freight off that line, we have to have somewhere to go."

SEPTA general manager Jack Leary hailed NS's offer as a "major victory" for the 62-mile MetroRail project.

"All along, I thought the best alternative for them would be to adopt the Enola branch," Leary said. "I'm really pleased [NS] has come to the table and said this [MetroRail] can be accomplished."

Leary suggested that the benefits of MetroRail would offset the big price tag. He predicted that MetroRail would spur private commercial and residential development from Philadelphia to Reading at a scale "up to eight times" the $2.2 billion cost.

In addition, Leary said, moving most freight off the track would benefit SEPTA by encouraging industrial development along the Enola branch instead.

NS has proposed serving existing industrial customers at night, such as making coal deliveries to the Peco Energy Co. plant at Cromby.

"This is the equivalent of a new interstate highway," Leary said. "Having the freight railroad elsewhere benefits everyone."

SEPTA and railroad officials stressed that the $783 million cost of laying new track and signals for NS on the Enola route was preliminary, and the result of a $160,000 SEPTA-funded study that the railroad issued in December.

MetroRail "has now moved from a vision to a concept," Leary said. "These cost estimates are a blueprint for negotiations."

The new $2.2 billion estimate doesn't account for possible savings to MetroRail construction if NS was no longer moving trains through the Norristown-Reading corridor, Lewis said.

"Our gut feeling is that the cost of the Enola branch could be entirely offset by cost reductions and time saved by SEPTA," he said.

Nonetheless, the latest dollar figures elevate MetroRail to the largest infrastructure project in the region in decades.

SEPTA hopes 80 percent of MetroRail's cost will be paid by the Federal Transit Administration and the rest by the state.

The escalating scale of the region's first new transit line in decades alarmed MetroRail's critics.

"It is shameful that the price is now more than $2 billion when the whole project can be done for $800 million," said Don Nigro, president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers. The transit riders' advocacy group has lobbied for SEPTA to launch modest passenger service on the Norristown-to-Reading corridor.

"In the 'Software world, we call this type of proposal 'vaporware, Nigro said. "It is entirely theoretical."

Still, NS's willingness to accommodate SEPTA means that MetroRail has cleared a major hurdle, Leary said.

"This is a railroad that wouldn't even talk to us a few years ago," Leary said. "I applaud them."

The SEPTA-funded study also offered the possibility that MetroRail could coexist with NS in the current Norristown-Reading freight corridor.

However, the report from Frederic R. Harris Inc. of Philadelphia also cited $153 million in costs to widen the right-of-way so passenger and freight service could coexist on parallel tracks.

Most worrisome was the study's contention that Neversink Mountain near Reading posed serious obstacles to MetroRail because the terrain makes it impossible to build a transit line without disrupting NS operations. The study did not estimate the cost of cutting into the mountain to lay new double track for MetroRail.

Untold costs could also mount because of the need to acquire extensive amounts of property in downtown Pottstown and move a NS rail yard in Reading to the Enola branch, according to the report.

An 'unusual consist' is coming down the tracks
Watch for an unusual Amtrak consist running up and down the East Coast in the upcoming weeks. On January 11, the first West Palm Beach Safety Patrol Special will head north for Washington, a friend from the Southland tells us.

This is an annual event wherein students are rewarded with a trip to the nation's capital. The tradition has been ongoing for about 25 years, and recently the consists have always been Superliner equipment, but this year, requirements necessary to protect Amtrak's scheduled trains have depleted the surplus and for the first time 20 Horizon Fleet coaches will be employed.

Deadhead Horizon cars have appeared on the rear of No. 91 for the past few days. On December 28, the Silver Star was filled out with seven of the deadheading Horizon cars and a material handling car (mail car) full of mail to total 20. As luck would have it, with the swollen consist, the train was powered by an ailing P-42 (No. 83) and an aging F-40PH (No. 322). As a result of the proliferation of newer GE power, the 322 has been a virtual stranger south of Washington in recent years, and has reportedly been stripped of its cab signals.

Adding to the oddity, the school special trains may likely be routed over the former Seaboard Air Line (SAL) Florida line from Vitis to Baldwin, and possibly on to Callahan, thus bypassing Jacksonville as did the Seaboard Coast Line's (SCL) seasonal Florida Special and SAL's Silver Meteor. Although Amtrak's Silver Palm traverses the Vitis-Baldwin segment nocturnally in both directions, the Baldwin-Callahan trackage has not seen a passenger train in decades.

Corridor lines...

Train, house collide; no serious injuries

A house being moved over tracks was struck by an Amtrak train running extra on December 23, and apparently the driver never told the railroad he would be moving it across the rails, a BNSF railroad spokesman said a fortnight ago. The Amtrak extra carried 90 Seattle Seahawks fans home from a Saturday game.

It was the driver's responsibility to notify the railroad, which would have stopped any trains until the house cleared the tracks, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said on December 26.

"We were not notified," Melonas said. "Obviously, trains can't stop. They can't swerve."

It was unclear whether the driver, Jeffrey Douglas Ponder, 45, of Auburn, knew if he should notify the railroad or check for unscheduled trains. Ponder, who owns a building restoration firm, said he had been moving houses around the area for 20 years and was doing everything by the book, including securing 12 permits for the move from assorted jurisdictions, but he also said he had moved houses across tracks before and never advised the railroad.

A Pierce County deputy in a car was escorting the rig, but was at the next intersection and did not see the collision, a sheriff said.

Ponder was being investigated for driving with alcohol in his system. The state has a zero-tolerance policy for commercial drivers, and driving with a suspended license, said Washington State Patrol Lt. Dan Eikum

Ponder was hauling the house across the tracks between Auburn and Sumner, but stopped as two men standing on the house tried to lift low-hanging wires. One of the men, Anthony Payne, said he had about 10 seconds to react to the oncoming train.

When the Portland-bound special hit, Payne, 25, was thrown into the air. He slid into a gully, landed in a grassy field, and walked away with only a scratch and bruise near his right eye. He said he would have been killed if Ponder had not moved the house forward slightly. The other man on the roof, David Higman of Seattle, slid through the debris to the ground, unhurt. The house was demolished.

About a dozen people two from the truck, the rest from the train were treated and released at area hospitals. The rest of the Amtrak passengers were bused south to Portland.

"We're very lucky nobody was killed or seriously hurt," Eikum said.

"When you look a the damage to house and the damage to the engine, we're really fortunate."

"Kinda makes you feel kinda sick. It's my house, my kids were born in that house," said Mickey Fassbind, the former owner of the house.

Wisconsin prepares for fast tracks
A notion to run 110 mph passenger trains between Milwaukee and Madison is moving full speed ahead, says a Wisconsin transportation official. Authorities remained on schedule at year's end to start work in 2002 on the line and to begin service by the end of 2003, said Randy Wade, passenger rail implementation manager for the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

The Milwaukee-to-Madison service would be one of the first lines in the rail initiative's proposed $4.1 billion network of fast, frequent trains across the Midwest, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Wisconsin part of the system would use 110-mph trains to link Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and the Twin Cities, with regular-speed service between Milwaukee and Green Bay. High-speed lines from Chicago to St. Louis and Detroit are also part of the plan, according to the Christmas Day report.

Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, who has been tapped by President-elect George Bush Jr. to be America's next Health and Human Services administrator, remains, for now, chairman of the Amtrak board and a driving force in the rail initiative. Train backers were confident the Midwest would be in line for a major chunk of the $10 billion that the federal government would borrow for Amtrak projects under a high-speed rail law. Such a bill failed in the last Congress, but Republican leadership said it would revisit the issue in the 107th Congress. The next Congress began its new session on January 3.

Now-retired Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) sponsored that legislation, which would have used tax credits to repay investors who buy the bonds, but opposition from Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Phil Gramm (R-Texas) blocked the rail legislation from becoming part of the budget package approved by Congress at the end of its term. Lautenberg is stepping down from Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) have pledged to lead a bipartisan effort to win approval of the rail funding legislation within the first few months of the new congressional session.

Chicago's METRA buys 300 coaches
Chicago's METRA reported on December 14 it is buying 300 new commuter coaches from Sumimoto, according to the Chicago Tribune.

At the Ogilvie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago, METRA officials announced a $398.6 million plan to buy 300 stainless steel bilevel coaches. Railroad officials said the buy was the largest such purchase in Illinois history.

Of the 300 new cars, 258 will go toward replacing METRA' s oldest coaches, some of which are more than 50 years old. Another 42 will be used as the commuter rail line expands service to the north and southwest suburbs.

Delivery of the initial purchase of 250 cars is expected to begin in 2003. METRA also has an option to buy 50 more. The last coach should be on the rails and in operation in 2005.

METRA awarded the contract to Sumitomo Corp. of America. Super Steel of Milwaukee will assemble the cars. The old cars will either be scrapped, sold to another transit agency or end up in a museum, METRA officials said.

Each new coach will accommodate about 140 passengers, and will feature larger windows, more comfortable seating, an improved public address system and better signage.

Freight lines...

Fuel prices, slowing economy, affect rail sector

Wall Street cut earnings forecasts for the railroad sector on December 20, a day after a profit warning by Norfolk Southern Corp. confirmed concerns about high fuel costs and slowing industrial output.

J.P. Morgan slashed its estimates on the big four U.S. railroads, citing declining production of vehicles, chemicals, metals and forest products, which make up a large chunk of the goods transported by railroads.

Also, an analyst with Deutsche Bank Alex Brown said he expected investor expectations for the sector to slide in coming weeks, and Morgan Stanley cut its estimates on NS, saying earnings estimates for railroads would likely need to come down.

"The rails carry everything. They're the economy on rails," said J.P. Morgan analyst Jill Evans.

A surge in energy prices is also crippling bottom lines of Norfolk Southern and virtually all U.S. railroads, including giants BNSF, UP and CSX.

The amount spent by the railroads on fuel for every dollar of revenue generated has risen 50 percent since 1999, according to a report by UBS Warburg. The only silver lining this quarter, Evans said, was coal, the largest single item that railroads transport. Chilly weather in the east has kept hopper cars full of the black diamonds, she said.

Not all railroads are being equally hurt by the upturn in energy prices, analysts said. Canadian National Railway Co. and BNSF hedged their bets against rising costs by locking in energy prices early, while others, such as NS and CSX had not, said Michael Lloyd, an analyst with DB Alex Brown.

Railroads have pushed through several price increases for their customers in the past three months because of higher fuel costs, Lloyd said, but higher fees can result in business going to trucking companies. Lloyd also said the sector has a fundamental problem cutting costs quickly in response to lower shipment volume.

J.P. Morgan cut its fourth quarter earnings forecast for industry leader UP, which had 26.5 percent of the market share in 1998 according to the UBS report, to 90 cents per share from $1.00, and year 2001 estimates to $4.40 from $4.55.

BNSF was cut to 63 cents per share from 67 cents in the fourth quarter, and $2.70 per share from $2.80 in 2001. CSX was cut to 30 cents from 40 cents in the fourth quarter.

NS fights wintry weather;
spends on engines, tracks
"The compound effects of a series of winter storms" hampered Norfolk Southern operations in the Midwest for a time in mid-December, the railroad told its employees in late December. The railroad alerted its forces system-wide that a "Force Majeure" remained "in effect for traffic moving from, to, or through Missouri, Illinois, Central and Northern Indiana, and Central and Northern Ohio, Michigan, and Western New York," and included terminals in Kansas City, St. Louis, Decatur, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Ft. Wayne, and Buffalo.

Operations in Ohio and east were improving by the 19th, but weather continued "to impact operations and crew availability. Several areas in Missouri, Illinois, central and northern Indiana, central and northern Ohio, and Michigan" were impacted by fresh snow." High winds and other adverse conditions were also hampering operations in some areas.

For a time, the carrier told its customers, its Chicago Transportation Coordination Office had issued a "stage 2 Alert Level." At Stage 2, "There is a heightened level of discussion between carriers and intermediate or other carriers at Chicago" which "may require specific staging of trains destined to Chicago and beyond."

Elsewhere, NS said it "plans to spend $806 million for capital improvements in 2001."

CEO David R. Goode said, "Our capital spending plan for 2001 supports continued high levels of safe, efficient customer service across NS's transportation network." Goode is also the railroad's chairman and president.

The freight railroad's spending plan includes $449 million for trackwork, and $256 million for equipment. It has budgeted $264 million for rail, crosstie, ballast and bridge programs; $63 million for new or improved intermodal facilities; $35 million for marketing and industrial development initiatives; $35 million for signal and electrical projects; and $23 million for environmental projects and public improvements such as grade crossing separations and crossing signal upgrades.

Equipment spending includes $224 million to purchase 160 six-axle locomotives, upgrade existing locomotives and certify and rebuild multilevel automobile racks. It also includes $29 million for computer-related projects.

Tellier says CP merger is needed to survive
The president of Canadian National Railway said a merger with Canadian Pacific Railway might be necessary to ensure the survival of the industry in Canada. "In the context of railways evolving in North America, companies like CN and CP must seek out an alliance to become stronger," said Paul Tellier.

"Or else they need to make an alliance, be it through acquisitions, mergers or corporate agreements, with a foreign railway company," according to a Canadian Press report.

Tellier said he thinks a single national railway would be beneficial to exporters, on the condition of prices remaining competitive. However, Tellier also said that he is conscious of the need to protect the everyday consumer when such a monopoly exists.

David O'Brien, president of CP's parent company, Canadian Pacific Ltd., recently opened the door to the possibility of his company divesting itself of its railway interests.

Meanwhile, CP president Robert Richie has said he feels increased co-operation between the two national railways would be a better idea.

CN and CP tried unsuccessfully to integrate their rail line networks in Eastern Canada six years ago. Today the two companies are negotiating agreements to share certain rail lines.

Another possibility in CN's development may be to extend their activity beyond the railways. Tellier doesn't necessarily see CN returning to the trucking industry, but he is thinking of related industries like warehousing services.

As far as the future of the Canadian railways are concerned, both companies are against an amendment to the law on transports in Canada that allows the free use of rail lines by large exporting companies in the name of fair competition.

Tellier said there is enough healthy competition between the different modes of travel in Canada.

Tellier became head of CN in 1992 in an attempt to privatize the old Crown corporation, which went public in 1995.

The company's profitability was realized through massive layoffs, which saw a third of the company's jobs cut in the 1990s. Tellier insists that the layoffs are over, with his workforce hovering around 23,500 people.

CN realized an operating profit of $407 million for the quarter ending Sept. 30, an increase of nine per cent from the same period last year.

UP changes Chicago intermodal yard plans
Union Pacific Corp.'s closely held plans to build a large intermodal shipping facility on Chicago's West Side appear now to be dormant, as options expired recently on several sites totaling about 120 acres.

Instead, the Omaha-based railroad is focusing on constructing a similar, larger project in Rochelle, about 80 miles west of Chicago in Ogle County, reports Crain's Chicago Business News.

For months, Union Pacific publicly has identified Rochelle as the likely site for the new facility, which would be its third in the Chicago area for transferring freight from railcars to trucks for transport to Chicago-area customers or trains destined for other parts of the country.

However, for much of last year, sources said, the railroad was negotiating privately with five Chicago landowners, and secured purchase options from three. The land abuts rail lines feeding Union Pacific's east-west lines. In allowing the options to expire, the company will have to forfeit as much as $800,000 in so-called "earnest money."

"Chicago is on the back burner," acknowledges Michael Payette, Union Pacific's assistant vice-president for government affairs for the Central region.

We get letters...

Editor's note...

We get letters, and we like to publish them, but sometimes computers, being what they are, like cars, sometime make a mockery of all our efforts. Such was the case on January 3 when our main e-mail and word processing computer died. The hard drive failed, following numerous Microsoft Windows 98 crashes. We got a letter from Gary Kazin of Rockaway, N.J., who took us to task a little for three statements he perceived to be errors in our December 18 story about our non-ride aboard the Acela Express, but we lost his letter, so we are responding from human memory, not virtual memory.

In brief, Gary correctly pointed out that I could not have gotten an "upgrade" to business class after I returned in Providence. Indeed, he is right. I took pictures of both of my tickets, and both were business class ducats. Beyond that, first-class tickets are $137 between New Haven and Boston, while business class tickets cost $87, which is what I paid.

He also questioned my assertion about the train being late by 17 minutes. Again, he was right. It was 12 minutes. I had set my computer clocks by a college timekeeping site, which turned out to be five minutes advanced. I set my watch by that time, and did not discover until a day or two later that my watch and computer clock were not agreeing with my wall clocks. I did another time check, this time from the Naval observatories ( or

Gary also questioned whether my reporting of delays was accurate. I got my information from reliable sources, so I'll stick with what I wrote. Gary also noted there was a brief delay at Mystic River in Connecticut following a cab signal "hit."

To the editor:

Have NCI members given any support for the two proposed rail projects so far on the table (the Fairbanks, Alaska to Northern British Columbia Rail Link or the Lewiston, Idaho to Missoula, Montana Rail Link)? Both have been given serious consideration in the U.S. Senate, but I haven't seen any news items on either lately.

Dave Smith
Moscow, Idaho

In a word, no. We were not aware of these two ideas, but we'll look into them and report back to you and our other readers. Ed.

1954 scene at Fort Point Channel

NCI: Leo King

How many things in this summer 1954 scene at Fort Point Channel in Boston do you suppose are gone? Virtually all are. The New Haven's Alco S-2 is long gone, as is its crew. The engines were used, along with branch line freight chores, to shuffle the passenger train decks, especially any Railway Express cars, sleepers, baggage and mail cars. The semaphore signals and signal bridge disappeared years ago, those three circa 1899 rolling lift bridges were removed a century later, The coach yard at the far left on the western shore disappeared when the state took over the operations and built a Red Line rapid transit storage yard, the Rapid Service Press building on the right (behind the engine and signal bridge) is long gone - virtually the only thing still there is the channel itself. Even the ground has been either covered with ballast, or the city's Post Office annex is on it.
End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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Destination: Freedom's editor, Leo King, also writes for "ThemeStream," a forum for writers and readers. King's articles are all rail-related, and mostly chronicle events over the last ten years on the Northeast Corridor, particularly in New England. Look for his articles at under the heading "Travel," and the sub-heading, "Riding the Rails."

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's Site in Boston.

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